Nightly News   |  June 12, 2013

Senators clash over military sex assault cases

The crisis of sexual assault in the military set up a political clash Wednesday that challenged allies and raised new questions as to how or if change can happen in the military. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and calls for major changes in the military justice system has provoked a heated debate in congress. nbc kelly o'donnell watching from capitol hill . hi, kelly.

>> hi, lester, this crisis set up a political clash that put allies on the opposite side to the painful issue and raises questions about how or if change in an institution like the military can ever really happen.

>> retaliation --

>> as part of the senate's new generation.

>> many here don't believe the victims. they don't believe the victims. they don't believe chain of come man is the problem.

>> reporter: kirsten gillibrand took on the old guard, between the pentagon top brass and the record number of women, seven, on the armed services committee . over the failure to stop mitt tear sexual assaults.

>> victims said i am not reporting because it's in the chain of command .

>> reporter: it looked like service chiefs taken to the wood shed.

>> this isn't about sex this is about assaultive domination and violence.

>> reporter: today, the plan backed by gillibrand and two dozen other senators that would have taken the prosecution of serious crimes out of the military chain of command failed. defense secretary chuck hagel .

>> i don't personally believe that you can eliminate the command structure and the military from this process.

>> reporter: the top democrat, carl levin , sided with the pentagon.

>> it is harder to hold someone accountable for failure to act if you reduce your power to act.

>> reporter: levin got the committee to agree for some changes, making retaliation against a victim a crime.

>> if you can't get the command system to work, then the whole thing crumbles.

>> reporter: other democrats stuck with gillibrand, suggesting more sweeping change is needed.

>> it will look to the victim as though we were simply tinkering with the progress.

>> reporter: senators say they are making big changes, like eliminating the commander's ability to toss out a conviction.